Why is it that, when non-disabled people are talking about or to disabled people, they feel that it is perfectly fine to say or ask whatever they like? Regardless. Absolutely anything. Things they would not dream of asking or saying about a non-disabled person but, because we are disabled, they feel they have a right to know.
Surely, people don’t do that, I hear you say. Well they do. Granted, it’s not everyone, most people are great, but it certainly does happen and it is definitely not fine. Just because we are disabled it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. Rule of thumb here guys, if you wouldn’t like people to say what you are about to say about yourself, then, in all likelihood, your disabled compatriot is unlikely to like it either.
And, most of the time, it’s not necessary either. Again, before you open your mouth ask yourself why you are about to say what you are about to say? Is there a valid reason or are you just being nosey. In many, if not most cases, it’s the latter and not the former. You really don’t need to know at all.
So what kind of thing am I talking about then. Well, I’m sure just about every disabled person in the country, in the world really, can think of more than one occasion when someone has said something that was unnecessary or hurtful or when they have been asked something intensely intimate and private when there was no need.
Last weekend a friend of mine was very upset when she overheard a visitor to her home in conversation with her partner. My friend, who has an impairment which can cause her intolerable pain, was in bed after having a very bad night due to pain and nightmares. The inconsiderate visitor was heard saying that she thought my friend was extremely lazy and asking, couldn’t her partner do something about it, because it just wasn’t right for someone in their early twenties to be so idle. Thankfully, her partner dealt with the situation very well and the visitor later apologised but, knowing that my friend is disabled, why did this person feel they had the right to say what they did if they didn’t know the full circumstances?
And it’s happened to me too. Just because I am obviously disabled, and use a wheelchair, I have been asked questions no-one in their right mind, would ask a non-disabled person. “How do you go to the toilet?”, “Can you have sex then?” and, said with some incredulity, “You mean you’ve got a job then? You work?” These are genuine questions I have been asked by random strangers on the bus or in queues at the checkout. I have even been stopped in the street and asked if my children were mine because they weren’t disabled too. Who thinks they have a right to do that? I think the most hurtful question I have ever been asked personally was when I went to my GP to get the result of a pregnancy test. The doctor had the brass nerve to say, almost without stopping for breath, “Congratulations Poppy, you’re pregnant. When would you like the abortion?” Once I’d retrieved my jaw from the floor, I said I didn’t want one. She then said, “But you have MS. How will you look after a baby?” Apart from the fact that, at that time, my MS was fairly newly diagnosed and was causing me very few problems, she was also completely ignoring the fact that I had a partner, parents, a sibling and other friends and relatives who could lend a hand if I needed one. Much the same as any other young, pregnant woman actually. Why did my MS diagnosis mean that this woman felt she had the right to say what she did. In my opinion, she didn’t. My MS didn’t mean I was completely incapable. Sure, I might have a few difficulties but, doesn’t everyone else? Thankfully, her fears were, as I had expected, unfounded and I had no problem with my pregnancy whatsoever. Or with my second pregnancy two years later for that matter, a very different experience altogether, thanks to a new, understanding GP and a supporting Midwife.
Just because someone is disabled it doesn’t mean their life is public property. How their impairment affects them should be on a need to know basis only and if you don’t need to know, don’t ask. It’s private and unlikely to be any of your business. If you wouldn’t like to be asked yourself, move away and stop being a poke-nose.